This morning I am coveting. There are some lovely homes on my street, covered in tropical flowers and shaded by weeping willows. Compact mid-century homes painted charcoal, orange, white, and soft sage green. These homes are not mine, but I want them to be. The house we live in is a mid-century rancher, simple with clean lines and airy spaces. The front windows span the entire length of the living and dining room, and stretch from floor to ceiling. The floors are blonde wood, the walls are a tasteful shade of dove grey, and we’ve filled it with the art we love and comfortable furniture.
This home is not mine, but I want it to be. We rent this space, and I am grateful that we are able to occupy it as residents, even if we sign our checks over to a landlord and not a bank. We’ve owned before; I was only 25 and pregnant with Xander. The house was a large and comfortable split foyer in the south part of town, expensive to heat, expensive to maintain. I don’t think homes that were built in the seventies have the staying power of the homes built in the fifties. When we moved to Alaska the split foyer was put on the market, just in time for the great housing crash of 2008. No one bit at our house, the one that we brought Xander home in, wrapped in the blue crocheted blankets his great grandmothers had made for him. No one bit and we were almost 5,000 miles away, too far to supervise in person the way things were handled. There was nothing to handle. We changed agents and put the house up for rent, and finally someone bit.
The tenants, four young men in graduate school, tore our home up. The kitchen, where I had warmed baby food and bottles, and made espresso after espresso to stay awake during the twilight days of Xander’s babyhood, had been flooded. They didn’t run the disposal, and eventually the muck and the water overflowed, backing into the dishwasher and flooding onto the floor. The agent had the floors replaced, but all of the collected rent was used to pay for the repairs and not our mortgage. We had to pay our Alaska rent (which of course was sky high – rent in most beautiful exotic places is), plus the mortgage on a house that was being dismantled by four boys on their own for the first time. There were more expenses: flea removal (one of the boys had brought in a big stray dog off the street and neglected to have it treated for fleas, and the agent neglected to collect a pet deposit up front), a broken toilet, a strained carpet.
Eventually the tenants stopped paying rent, and lived as squatters until the court order came through to have them removed. The agent starting showing the house to prospective buyers again (this was earlly 2010, and things were looking up a bit). Someone finally wanted to buy the house, but at this point it was a short sale, and the bank said no. After promising to look at offers, and work with us, they said no. We couldn’t afford the mortgage and our Alaska rent any more, so we gave the house up. The bank ended up selling it at auction for 20,000 less than our buyers offered as a short sale. Fuckers.
So our credit is now modest, where it was wonderful. It’s the only bad mark against us, but we still won’t be able to buy for a long time – even if we wanted to. But this house we’re living in is beautiful, and even though it’s not deeded in our name, I feel it sinking into my bones and my memory. Is it a sin to covet your own home? The bright side is that someone else patches things back together when they break, which hasn’t happened yet. As I’ve said, the house was built in the fifties, and is solid and strong and made of brick. Part of me, the small part that is petty, tells me that we don’t deserve it since we couldn’t hold on to the albatross house that we lost. The other part of me is just grateful to be here, in this borrowed space. It’s all borrowed space, though, right? None of us really own anything. It’s when we allow it to own us…that’s when our hearts grow troubled.
But there is this: the other day a sparrow died on the back patio, after crashing into the big rear windows. Xander shouted to come see the dead bird, and I wrapped it in paper towels and put the little bundle in a Target bag. I realized that we don’t have a shovel, so I had to place the bird in the garbage can, instead of burying it in a far corner of the backyard. I asked Xander if he wanted to say a few words in the bird’s honor, since he is usually so precociously profound. He responded, “Why is there bird poop everywhere…did it poop when it died? “ I said that it did, and said a little goodbye before placing it in the bin.
Little things like this, that happen on a Wednesday or Thursday, are the moments that attach us to this place. I struggle not to hold on, but it’s getting hard not to. I’m afraid this place is home, and my roots are finally sinking in and growing deep in the red clay.